Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Don't forget about scheduling playtime

For many (most?) working-class parents, life is hectic. There's not only our own work life, relationship with our spouse, and just plain living we have to schedule in -- there's the ever-important role we play in our children's lives.

And, trying to give them the best. Enriching their lives, stimulating their brains, clothes on their backs, shoes on their feet, etc.

Often, we forget about free time. Time when they can do whatever they want. Okay, strike that. Time they can play whatever they want -- not being entertained by video games or the TV, but playtime. Preferably outside.

The AP had a story from the American Academy of Pediatrics about how valuable playtime is. Not studying or piano lessons or baseball games or even reading. But, playing.

"Perhaps above all, play is a simple joy that is a cherished part of childhood," says the report, prepared by two academy committees for release Monday at the group's annual meeting in Atlanta. . . .
It says enrichment tools and organized activities can be beneficial but should not be viewed as a requirement for creating successful children. Above all, they must be balanced with plenty of free play time (my emphasis), the report says.
Balance? What a concept! Even if we have to schedule free playtime, do it.

"New York Daily News" columnist Lenore Skenazy makes a good point in today's column about one possible reason why we've forgotten about playtime:

First and foremost, I blame cable. Not kids watching cable (although three hours of the Cartoon Network will turn anyone's brain into Go-Gurt). ADULTS watching cable - that's the problem. Because any time some poor child gets abducted or, God forbid, killed, it is on the news all day. Sometimes all decade.

As the anchors grimly shake their heads for the zillionth time, it's almost impossible to remember the truth: These horrible incidents are not increasing. They are on TV precisely because they are rare. We live in very safe times, and New York City is the safest it has been since the '60s. So it is no nuttier to let your kid ride her bike outside today than it was when the Bradys were still a Bunch.

While my wife and are not perfect parents, we do try to make sure our kids don't get lazy and just sit and watch TV or play video games (as we know it's easy enough to do).

This past Sunday was a perfect example. My wife and I were doing some fall yardwork, and practically kicked our kids out of the house to play outside. Even when our oldest son (8yo) wanted to go back in, we said no. It was a beautiful day in (70s, light wind, sunny), and likely one of the last nice days to be out without a jacket.

So, while we were outside, the kids were outside.

One thing I think has gotten in they way of free, spontaneous playtime is "playdates." While the thought of scheduling time with friends seems to be a necessary evil, I don't remember having playdates scheduled for me when I was growing up.

That's why I'm thrilled that two of my oldest son's friends live nearby. One is two houses away, and the other is on the street behind us (within 1/2 mile). They often do not have playdates. They just go to each other's homes or call and get together.

When our kids don't recognize free time to play (with siblings or friends) and get to watching TV, it is up to parents to "be the parent" and get the kids off their duffs. It's too easy to get busy and let TV and video games be our kids' friends.

Remember, it's not up to our children to be the responsible ones. It's up to us to be the parents.

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